Catholic Bishop: AZ Anti-Illegal Immigration Law ‘May Inhibit The Church’s Ability To Be The Church’

By Christopher Goins | March 29, 2012 | 8:12 PM EDT

Catholic Bishop Jaime Soto, head of the diocese of Sacramento, Calif.

( -- A Catholic bishop speaking on his own behalf – not on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- said the controversial law in Arizona to curtail illegal immigration may prevent the Catholic Church from doing its work.

Jaime Soto, the bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, Calif.,  said on Thursday in a conference call that Arizona’s S.B. 1070 would force Arizona state officials to comply with and assist in enforcing federal immigration laws, which potentially would interfere with local efforts to help people in the illegal immigrant community.

A fact sheet on the law says, among other things, that it requires “a reasonable attempt to be made to determine the immigration status of a person during any legitimate contact made by an official or agency of the state … if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S.”  It also “requires the person’s immigration status to be verified with the federal government pursuant to federal law.”

“One of the reasons we are concerned that – we have a patchwork of states trying to respond -- that this will create an untenable, difficult situation not only for immigrant communities but for many of us who try to serve the immigrant community,” Bp. Soto said.

“The Catholic Church throughout the nation provides a very valuable service and support and counsel to people” he said, “and we are concerned that these laws may inhibit the churches ability to be the church.”

Some of the charitable works of the Church mentioned on the call include caring for people, providing solace,  and providing a place where people can “come and pray and worship and gather and care for their families when they are in need” when they seek the Church’s help.

The anti-illegal immigration law places the “positive work” of the Catholic Church and other faith communities “at risk,” the bishop said. Because of that he is “very concerned” with the “very imprudent and impractical trend” in state legislation and supports the case against S.B. 1070 and has filed an amicus brief against it with the Supreme Court.

Bishop Soto also said the immigration law may undermine “paramount values” of the Catholic Church.

“It’s important that immigration law always try to look towards family unity and human dignity,” he said.

“We are very concerned that these state laws, besides interfering with federal legislation, will actually undermine these very key and important values that should be part of any sound and legitimate immigration law,” he continued.

Human dignity and family unity should be “balanced off with enforcement,” said Bp. Soto.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sovereign nations have a duty “to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person” but the nation also has the duty “to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good.”

“Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right: ‘Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens,’” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops